I am no expert photographer, preferring to capture the moment than get a perfectly composed shot. The pictures on my blog are either taken with a compact Canon, a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 or on my phone.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Butterflies through time (2)

Following on from my previous post I have been continuing to read up about the butterflies that have recently been recorded in East Lothian. It would seem that many of the "new species" found in East Lothian in recent years did once occur here in the past.

Grayling, Hipparchia semele
I can find very little information about the distribution of the Grayling in East Lothian. "The Butterflies of Scotland" shows some records on the east coast of East Lothian between 1900 and 1980, but it says that the Grayling has been lost from many of its inland sites. The 1970 "Provisional Atlas of the Insects of the British Isles" showed it to no longer occur here. I found a stray Grayling in East Lothian in 2001, but the first recent records of it breeding here are from 2005 at the western side of East Lothian. I have also received records of it occurring in a remote valley or "cleugh" in the Lammermuir Hills. However, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it has been around for a lot longer, unnoticed in some remote location. Certainly it has become more numerous in the few sites it is now found in the last five years.

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria
Recorded around Edinburgh in 1811, but another species that disappeared from Edinburgh and the Lothians in the mid 1800s. By 1970 it no longer occurred in the North of England. It was first recorded back in East Lothian in 2009 having spread north up the east coast from the Scottish Borders. Since then it has continued to extended its range, now being commonly found right around the coast and in many wooded areas inland in East Lothian.

Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera
Again, it seems that this butterfly was found in much of Scotland in the early Nineteenth Century. It appears that it was reasonably common until it was wiped out after a series of cold summers from 1860. Thereafter only occurring in the south west of Scotland. It was first recorded in East Lothian again in 2010 arriving on the east coast and it has since worked its way around much of the coast.

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris
There are a couple of dubious records of the Small Skipper occurring in Scotland, but it is thought these could be mis-identification. The first records of the Small Skipper in East Lothian were from the Aberlady area in 2011. Since then it has slowly spread westwards along the coast as far as Levenhall and in 2014 it was also found at a couple of inland sites. There seems to be no obvious pattern to where they have been found here. It could be that, unlike many other species, they have come around the western side of the Lammermuir Hills.

There are three more species of butterflies that have recently been found in East Lothian. I will put details of them in my next post.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Butterflies through time (1)

We only have 25 different species of butterflies here in East Lothian. However, thirty years ago there were only about half that number. I have always been interested in why we have recorded so many new species here in recent years. Is it because we are putting more effort into searching for the butterflies, or are these genuine increases in the range of these species?

Recently I was lucky enough to find a second-hand copy of "The Butterflies of Scotland" by George Thomson.  This was writen in 1980 and I was keen to see the distribution maps and compare them with those in the 1970 "Provisional Atlas of the Insects of the British Isles" and with the current distribution maps produced by Butterfly Conservation. However, I was delighted to discover that the author has also included the history of records for each species going back to the early 1800s.

I have been spending hours reading this book and learning about how the distribution of many species of butterflies has changed over the years. Some of what I have read confirms what people have told me but there were a few surprised in there too!

I will start with some now common butterflies. The Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines, is said to have been widespread throughout southern and east Scotland in the early 1800s and it remained so until the 1880s, but after that its range contracted to south west Scotland. In about 1950 it was considered to be advancing back towards the Lothians. The map in Butterflies of Scotland shows it occurring in South-west Scotland and the Highlands, with one or two records in between. My boss, who was a countryside ranger in the 1970s says he remembered them only being along the River Esk in the west of East Lothian. Since then they have spread and they are now commonly seen in the spring across much of East Lothian and Scotland.

The Peacock, Aglais io, was recorded in south west Scotland in the 1700s and it continued to be recorded there through the 1800s with sporadic records across Scotland. However, by the start of the 1900s it was becoming rarer. It is thought that small colonies persisted on the west coast of Scotland, but that other records from around Scotland were migrants. Records started to pick up again in the 1950s and since then it has continued to spread across Scotland. It wasn't until the 1980s that it was found in East Lothian.

Ringlets, Aphantopus hyperantus, were said to be abundant in East Lothian in 1852, but by the end of that century they were becoming scarce. The last record from East Lothian around that time was in 1928. It was recorded again in 1984 in the east of East Lothian and has since spread across the whole county, now being common and numerous.

There are records of the Comma, Polygonia c-album, occurring in Southern Scotland, and up to Fife in the 1850s, but after that its range contracted until in 1920s it was only regularly occurring in the southern half of England. From around the 1980s it underwent a rapid expansion and reached the Scottish Borders in the 1990s and was first recorded again in East Lothian in 2001. Since 2006 it has become established here and has slowly become more numerous.

So, three of these species were certainly in East Lothian in the early 1800s, and most likely the Peacock was also occasionally found here then, too. Now the question is not so much why they occur here now, but why they moved away and then returned. I will have a look at the other more recent arrivals in East Lothian and see if I can find information about the weather during this period. More to follow...

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Scotch Argus - Erebia aethiops

The Scotch Argus, Erebia aethiops, is a butterfly that has a reputation for flying in dull weather. However, I was surprised to find it flying in the rain back in August. I had been visiting my father who was in hospital at the time and I knew that a couple of miles from the hospital was an area with a colony of Scotch Argus. I was disappointed that the weather was bad, but as with my previous visit to this site, I thought I should take a look as I was passing.
Digital cameras always make things look brighter than they really are, so this picture doesn't give a very good idea of how dull it really was.

There must have been about 30 of 40 of them in this small area. They were sheltering down in the grass, and they seemed to be easily disturbed. When I approached they would fly off for quite a distance and drop back down into the grass.

You can see the raindrops on the wings of the butterflies.

The caterpillars feed on grasses, and it is thought that Purple Moor-grass is its favoured food. I have read that they only occur in areas where the grass is not mown or grazed.

I have read that the caterpillars feed at night and rest up during the day. If they are disturbed they play dead and drop to the ground. I discovered that the adult butterflies do the same if they are not able to fly off when disturbed.

In the UK, I think there is only one area outside Scotland where this butterfly is found. It occurs over a wide area of eastern Europe, though. Recent research has shown that it is expanding northwards, possibly in response to climate change. This could be a bit of a worry for the colonies here in southern Scotland, which are being carefully monitored.

I am sorry about the quality of the pictures. They reflect the poor light that there was that day. Next year I want to return to the site in late July or early August, hopefully on a sunny day! I imagine that early in the morning would be good when the butterflies are warming themselves up in the early sunshine.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Levantine Leopard - Apharitis acamas

On the last day of our holiday in Cyprus I decided to walk along a dried-up stream bed not far from our rented villa in Pegia. I had hoped that there may be some different butterflies there that I hadn't seen so far. However, after about a kilometre I hadn't seen any butterflies and I was about to turn back when I saw a Cyprus Meadow Brown. This spurred me on to continue a little further along the stream bed.

A little further along the stream I saw a small butterfly in the distance behaving like a Long-tailed Blue. I climbed out of the stream bed to see if I could find it and I was amazed to see that the butterfly was a Levantine Leopard, Apharitis acamas.

This is a butterfly that I thought was so rare that I didn't stand any chance of seeing one! Every time it landed it closed its wings immediately. I could see when it was flying that the upper side of the wings was a yellow colour. The underside is a cream colour with brown stripes, each containing a line of silver scales. There are two tails on each hind wing, the larger of which has a blue patch that only shows when the sun hits it.

I had read that this butterfly is easily approached and does not scare easily, so I slowly reached out to one and coaxed it onto my finger. I couldn't believe how much the silver scales glinted as I turned it in the sunlight. Stupidly, I had picked it up on my right hand and I discovered that it is impossible to use my camera using my left hand!!

I was surprised that there were five Levantine Leopards in this one small area and I found two more 100 metres further up stream. This was a thrilling end to my butterfly hunting in Cyprus.

I saw 29 different species while I was there, with 13 of them being species that I hadn't seen before. I was surprised not to have seen any Brown Argus, Aricia agestis, or Painted Ladies, Vanessa cardui. The only butterfly that I was hoping to see that I didn't was the Southern White Admiral, Limenitis reducta, but I really can't complain having seen so many Lycaenidae that I had wanted to find.

I was delighted with what I had seen and I am very grateful to Eddie John for his help with good places to look for butterflies. His excellent web site can be found here.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Troodos Mountains - Butterflies

On 28th July I decided to head for the Troodos Mountains in search of some different species of butterflies. I had been told that many species make their way up into the cooler mountains from the coast in the summer. There are also various other species that are only found in the mountains.
I drove along the coast and then up the F616 towards Troodos, stopping a few times whenever I saw a spot that looked good for butterflies.
My first stop was to take a picture of the view, but I noticed a small patch of Heliotropium europaeum, so thought I should check if any butterflies were feeding on it. There was a very old and tattered Common Blue and then I noticed a really small butterfly. I was delighted to see that it was a Grass Jewel, Chilades trochylus. It was so small that I could only follow its shadow as it flew from flower to flower.
All along the road I saw Swallowtails and Small White as I drove along. Further up in the hills I stopped a couple of times to look for some of the Grayling species that occur on Cyprus. However, all I saw were Long-tailed Blues.
Eventually, I arrived at Pano Paltres and just as I was leaving the village I saw a small parking area with walking trail. This was a rough tail following a small river up to Caledonian Falls.
As I started to walk up the track I saw several butterflies. The first I thought was another Long-tailed Blue, but it turned out to be a Purple Hairstreak, Favonius quercus. This was a surprise as I have been lead to believe that the Purple Hairstreak is rare in Cyprus and this was in an area of fruit trees with no sign of any oak trees - their normal food plant.

It allowed me to take one picture, but then flew off. There were a number of Long-tailed Blues at this lower end of the track along with Holly Blues. An Oriental Meadow Brown, Hyponephele lupina, briefly landed at the side of the trail and I was able to take a quick picture before someone walked past and disturbed it.

A little further up the track three Large Whites were feeding on a plant. I was about to take a picture of one of them when three kids ran up with fishing nets swiping at the butterflies!! Unfortunately, this walk proved to be very popular and it was difficult to see any butterflies for any length of time before they were disturbed by someone walking past.
However, this area had a good number of different butterfly species. I was surprised to see a few Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria, here.

Amongst the Speckled Woods I was teased by a number of dark butterflies that would not let me approach them. I would only notice them when they flew up from the rocks on the trail. They would always land too far away for me to identify them, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures on full zoom which allowed me to identify two of them as Cyprus Graylings, Hipparchia cypriensis. One is a male and one is a female.

One other butterfly I was able to identify was the Lattice Brown, Kirinia roxelana. This is a very striking butterfly with large brown ocelli on its wings. I disturbed it as I was walking up the trail, it flew off and landed next to a rock and then crawled into the vegetation. Unfortunately it flew off when I tried to get a better view of it.
All along the trail there were Holly Blues, Celastrina argiolus, resting on leaves, feeding on flowers and drinking from the damp soil at the edge of the river.

The walk to the falls was well worth the climb with the fine spray nicely cooling the air.

On my return journey, as I was driving through Paltres I noticed a large thistle with some Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, feeding on it. I stopped the car and walked back thinking that I could get a photograph to make up for those chased away by the kids earlier.

While I was watching them a Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus, and a White-banded Grayling, Pseudochazara anthelea, briefly landed on the thistles, each allowing me just enough time to take a fuzzy photograph!

On my way home I stopped off a few more times. In a small field just outside Kedares there was a small irrigation channel surrounded by wild flowers. Among them I saw several Common Blues, Polyommatus icarus.

The field also contained many Large Whites, Holly Blues, Clouded Yellows, including the white form helice, a Speckled Wood and a Cleopatra. A little further down the road next to a layby I saw another Grass Jewel and a Mallow Skipper.
All together a very successful day searching for butterflies.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Larnaca Salt Lake - Butterflies

My favourite family of butterflies is Lycaenidae - the blues, coppers and hairstreaks. When I was looking at Eddie John's fantastic web site of Butterflies of Cyprus there was one particular butterfly that I decided I really wanted to see - The Small Desert Blue, Chilades galba. Eddie kindly told me a good place to go and look for it, so on 22 July I set off from our rented villa to drive 100 miles to Larnaca Salt Lake.

Eddie had told me to head for the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque and to walk along the track beyond it around the salt lake. This was certainly good advice, as while I was parking the car I noticed a small blue butterfly flying at the edge of the track. I jumped out of the car and was delighted to discover that it was a Small Desert Blue.

The Small Desert Blue, Chilades galba, is small butterfly with a wing span of 17 - 22mm. I noticed that the males are a lot smaller than the females. It only occurs on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean. The books say that it is only found where its foodplant, Prosopis farcta, grows. This is a short thorny shrub, which it turned out was growing along both sides of the track. I believe that it can be quite invasive and it has very deep roots. It was certainly having no problem growing in the hostile environment around the salt lake.

I needn't have been so hasty to look at the first butterfly I saw as it turned out that there were thousands of them on the plants along the edge of the track. Sometimes it was impossible to take a picture without another Small Desert Blue trying to get into the shot!

I have never experienced butterflies in such numbers, they were almost flying up in clouds as I walked along the track.

Eddie also told me that if I walked as far as a flight of steps I would find some Zizyphus lotus bushes. He said if I looked in these I may find Little Tiger Blue butterflies, Tarucus balkanicus. I struggled through the vegetation to the only bush I could see and was soon rewarded with a Little Tiger Blue. This was a real thrill, as I have never seen a butterfly like this before.

According to the books this butterfly is the same size as the Small Desert Blue, but it appeared to be larger to me. The underside of the wings are beautifully marked, but very difficult to photograph, because they either had the sun glaring off their wings or they had shadows from the leaves on them. 

As I walked back to the car I realised that there were several Zizyphus lotus plants growing along the track that I had walked past. When I had a look, many of them also had Little Tiger Blues flying around them.

Having learned which plants the butterflies liked I found a perfect area with Zizyphus lotus and Prosopis farcta growing alongside a blackberry bush. Here I also saw Long-tailed Blues, Small Whites and Lang's Short-tailed blues, Leptotes pirithus.

Most thrilling of all for me were a couple of  Lesser Fiery Coppers, Lycaena thersamon. These are quite large with a wingspan of between 28 and 35mm.

The first one that I saw was the female above, and later I saw the male, below. The pictures don't really do them justice, as they are a beautiful bright orange/copper colour when they fly.

Among all of the Small Desert Blues there were a few Common Blues, Polyommatus icarus. They looked really big compared to their smaller cousins. 

Further along the track my eye was caught by this female Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous, which was, I think, trying to fend off the advances of a male. It was vibrating its wings, which made the blue scales shine with a real intensity.

This behaviour continued for several minutes with the occasional male Small Desert Blue joining in! Eventually, the male appeared to give up and he settled close to the female who then closed her wings. Sadly I had to drag myself away. It was 35 degrees Celsius and the sun was very intense and I had a 100 mile journey ahead of me to return to the family. What an amazing day, though. I will never forget seeing so many Small Desert Blues and such a great variety of Lycaenidae. I am very grateful to Eddie John for suggesting I should go there. I would never have imagined that a hot, dry area next to a salt lake would be such a great place to look for butterflies!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Cyprus Dragonflies and Damselflies

There was certainly no shortage of dragonflies and damselflies in Cyprus. This surprised me a little as I always imagine that they like wetland areas, but there must have been sufficient water for them somewhere.

Most the the dragonflies and damselflies below were seen flying around a small pool in the river feeding into Mavrokolympos reservoir. However, I also regularly saw them when I was out looking for butterflies nearer the villa and we had a resident dragonfly at the pool.

I had no idea about the identification of any of the pictures below, but I am very grateful to Noushka, who has a wonderful wildlife photography blog for identifying many of the dragonflies and damselflies on this page. I have also had a great deal of help from David Sparrow who runs dragonfly monitoring scheme across Cyprus. I have added the names as captions to the pictures.

Sympetrum fonscolombii male

Sympetrum fonscolombii female

The red dragonfly below is the same species as the one that took up residence at our swimming pool. Of course it may not have been the same red dragonfly I saw each day at the pool! This seemed to be quite a common species in Cyprus.

Trithemis annulata male

There were also some beautiful damselflies at the pool:

Calopteryx splendens, male

I wonder if the two below are male and female?

Calopteryx splendens female

Calopteryx splendens female

This one looks a little more like those I see back home in Scotland.

Ishnura elegans

Meanwhile, back at the villa, I saw this species most times that I went out to look for butterflies. I don't know where the nearest water was. Certainly the stream at the bottom of the valley was completely dry. 

Sympetrum fonscolombii female

The dragonfly below was certainly my favourite. The way the red merged into yellow on the abdomen gave the impression that it had been dipped in gold.

Sympetrum fonscolombii male

Towards the end of our holiday this blue dragonfly also took up residence at the pool. I naively thought that it was the same species as the red dragonfly (red for girls, blue for boys?), as they would briefly chase each other and then land at opposite corners of the pool. However, my theory was destroyed when I saw two blue dragonflies mating on our last day!!

Orthetrum chrysostigma, male

Thank you again to David and Noushka for their help with the identifications of these dragonflies and damselflies. David also informed me that I also had a picture of Orthetrum coerulescens below:

And David identified this fussy picture as a Magnificent Emperor, Anax immaculifrons: